The petite elderly woman flailed desperately in the canal behind her mobile home south of Leesburg.
A neighbor drinking his morning coffee and looking out his kitchen window Wednesday couldn't believe what he was seeing. He quickly dialed 911, then jumped into the 4-foot-deep water to help the woman in distress.
Carol Hough, 84, had only one word to explain what had happened to her: "Gator." Her neighbor, Delmas Zickefoose, was shocked when he realized her arm was gone below the shoulder.
"I held her," the 68-year-old Zickefoose said. "I just held her, telling her everything would be all right, that rescue was on the way."
About nine hours later, state wildlife officials trapped and killed the alligator suspected of biting off Hough's right arm. The 7-foot-5 male gator had taken bait near the canal where the attack occurred, said Lt. Joy Hill, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
"The alligator was not at all afraid of humans," Hill said. "It didn't move when we were standing near it."
A necropsy found no human body parts inside the alligator's stomach, but Hill said wildlife officials believe it was the gator that bit Hough, based on reports of its size, though "it is impossible to say with 100 percent certainty."
Hough remained in critical condition at Orlando Regional Medical Center.
No one knows why Hough was in the water or how long she had been in there before Zickefoose saw her. But several large alligators regularly swim near their homes at Cypress Creek Mobile Home Park.
Other neighbors said Hough had a history of being disoriented. She had moved to Florida from Maine after her husband died. She asked for her late husband, Bob, after Zickefoose found her in the water at daybreak, about 7 a.m.
It's not known what prompted the attack. Several alligator attacks have occurred when people were with their pets, but Hough doesn't have a pet.
Still, alligator attacks are less common than dog bites or lightning strikes, Hill said.
From 2007 to 2011, 34 people were injured and one person was killed in alligator attacks, wildlife officials said. Since 1948, there have been 337 unprovoked gator attacks on humans, including 22 fatalities, according to state records.